Ladies and gentlemen, there's a storm of epic proportions brewing in the city of Winnipeg today. No, I'm not talking about the winter whiteout which blankets our streets, homes and vehicles well into the month of April. The storm I speak of will unleash it's fury on the 15,004 capacity crowd jammed inside the walls of the MTS Centre at 2:00PM CST this afternoon and will be one of the strongest fronts this city has seen in years. With everything on the line, the Winnipeg Jets will host the Philadelphia Flyers in a matinee affair that will likely help decide both team's fates in this final month of NHL hockey.
The similarities between these two eastern foes are somewhat uncanny, yet they are heading in different directions like two ships that pass in the night. Both teams have struggled through the woes of inconsistent goaltending, sure as both have dealt with a lack of secondary scoring. Yet even though both currently hover around the .500 mark, their recent successes has taken them on an entirely different journey.
The Jets -- a now disappointing 17-18-2 -- have dropped their last five contest in almost every way conceivable. They've lost heart-breakers, and have been laughed out of the building. There have been nights where Claude Noel's elixir of "effort" has clearly taken effect and others where it seems the remedy, though valiant, just isn't doing the job. At this juncture of the season, the Winnipeg Jets are a team that just can't do anything right. Meanwhile, the Flyers have hit a surge of late, winner's in each of their past four games and an overall record of 17-17-3. Jakub Voracek continues to prove being worth the value of Jeff Carter in a trade orchestrated by GM Paul Holmgren last summer, leading Philadelphia at a point per game pace. Ilya Bryzgalov, Philly's 5.66MM a year Socratic philosophizer turned goaltender has been shaky over the progressive win streak and, despite posting a -.900 SV% in three of his last five, has led the Flyers to consecutive victories.
As both the Jets and Flyers sit perched on the Eastern Conference playoff bubble, this afternoon's battle will go a long way in sculpting both team's playoff pictures. A Jets' win and subsequent Caps' loss would put the Jets back in the Southeast Division drivers seat. A Flyers' win would inch them ever-so-close to overtaking the cluster of Atlantic Division squads that littler the upper echelon of the postseason bubble.
Come 2:00PM CST, you're in for a real treat.
Keys to the Game:
Weather the storm: No, I'm not talking about pulling out your snow-plow and winter boots to clear your driveway or the effort you'll have to exude to get you're car out from under a heap of snow. We're talking Jets' hockey, man! The Flyers are playing with a ton of confidence lately and will look to set the tone early in today's contest. It's imperative for the Jets to stave off Philly's initial attack and respond with a strong counterpunch (score some goals already, guys) in order to win today's game.
(Ed. Note: Ilya Bryzgalov got the start today, however, most of this key still applies.) Mayday Mason!: One of the few NHL goalies with worse numbers than Ondrej Pavelec, the Jets' will have to disrupt the Flyers' new saviour in goal with an array of shots and traffic. In two of his last three appearances, he's posted save percentages of .879 and .625, so taking advantage of a sub-par goalie should be at the pinnacle of Winnipeg's game-plan.
Can the "Noelogic": Claude, I dig the fact that you think you're the biggest genius in a sea of mouth-breathers, window-lickers and mitten-stringers, but enough with your crazy ass line juggling. No Dustin Byfuglien on the wing. No Alexander Burmistrov on the fourth line. And for the love of God, dress Kyle Wellwood -- your best puck possession player. Put your lineup in a position to succeed as opposed to sending messages. Messages don't pay $150 a seat to watch your Frankenstein monster mash it's head into the glass night after night.
Keep on keepin' on: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I won't lie and say I've been following the Flyers as of late, so I have no idea what has contributed to their recent success (well, maybe I have a bit of a clue, see the next bullet point), but whatever it is, keep doing it.
The perfect power play: Philadelphia now boasts the NHL's second most lethal power play, operating at a clip of 23.7%. Considering they're set to square off against the Jets, who take the word passive to the next level on the penalty kill, it could be a good night to be on this Flyers' unit.
Lovin' Lavy: There's something almost cosmic about the way Peter Laviolette coaches his hockey teams. Sure, sometimes they find themselves in a bit of hot water; look no further than this year's incarnation of the Flyers. But somehow, Lavy always finds a way to get his his squad to push through the hard times to achieve prosperity, whether it's with the Carolina Hurricanes or now in Philadelphia. Look for his roster to come out fired up tonight.
Player to boo mercilessly:
Ilya Bryzgalov. Chris Pronger. Steve Mason. Your taunts might actually rattle the cage of one of the NHL's most underwhelming goalies.
Philadelphia 2 - F